On Sunday February 9, Christ Community Church celebrated our first year of public meetings. In the fall of 2012, around 35 faithful servants (adults and kids) moved to the “north shore” of Lake Pontchartrain, which provides a natural barrier to the north of New Orleans. We were sent from Lakeview Christian Center in New Orleans where many of us had been established for 20 years and more!
We were drawn to the Mandeville/Covington area of St. Tammany Parish (on the north shore) to plant a church with some folks who had been commuting to attend Lakeview. St. Tammany Parish is an affluent area but also an area desperate for gospel hope and healing. The parish has maintained the highest suicide rate for the state the past couple of decades. Churches marred by splits have left believers disillusioned and wandering from church to church.
We began our public meetings at a church on Saturday evenings and, after six months, we signed a lease for the building that we met in on Saturdays. We have had front row seats to experience the faithfulness of God in astounding ways. Since we moved into our own church home, we have been well received in the surrounding community. We have gone door-to-door introducing ourselves to the community on numerous occasions and have sensed a unique opening for the gospel that we are seeking to be used by the Lord to advance in the coming months and years.
In planting Christ Community Church, we prayed to see conversions. And the Lord has answered our prayers for conversions in ways beyond our imagination!
Our first conversion was the sweet moment when my daughter, ten years old at the time, came to the awareness of her own sinfulness as we continued to cast the vision of our family's involvement in planting a church to see people come to trust Christ for salvation. We had spent months before and after our move envisioning our five kids still at home about God’s call on us to plant a church to see people come to repentance. My daughter began to ask deep questions about her relationship with God, and she prayed with us in her room, surrendering her life to Christ. A couple of months later, the same thing happened to my younger daughter, who was eight years old at the time. I never anticipated our first converts coming from my own house, but I am overjoyed!
This past October, we moved into our own church building, allowing us to move our worship gathering to Sundays. We spent a couple months renovating and personalizing the building in preparation for an Open House Sunday on December 22. A mom in our church had been praying for years for her two daughters to come to faith in the Lord. She invited them both to the Open House, and they both came. The married daughter brought her husband as well. That Sunday, we had a couple share their testimony of coming to Christ during the service, and then I preached a message targeted to the lost. The invited couple couldn't stop crying the whole time. Benny, the husband, shared that when they came, the emptiness they had been trying to deal with and fill was finally gone after God touched them both. They haven’t missed a Sunday since.
Our most recent conversion occurred in late January. The men of the church met to discuss our study of The Godly Man's Picture. Ten minutes into a discussion on forgiveness, a guy named Brad interrupted me. Brad had come to church the previous two Sundays with his family as a result of an outreach in his community about two miles from church. He was sitting right next to me and asked for prayer because of the hatred and anger he had for his dad. He said that if he died that night, he knew he would go to hell because of his anger. I asked him a series of questions about his salvation, and he prayed with us all on the spot to repent of his sins and trust Christ for salvation as the men gathered around him. It was a glorious moment indeed!
The new believers added to our church family has served to reignite passion and zeal that reminds us of the sweetness of our own conversion experiences. We pray for more conversions. We pray for our growth as disciples. We pray for Christ to be preeminent in all things!
Jeff Ehrhardt is the senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Covington, Louisiana.
If you’re like me, there are certain verses that stick with you because they call you to live your life in a certain way. One of those verses for me, and I believe for Sovereign Grace is 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” This verse calls us to remain steadfast in the work of the gospel. The faith-stirring truth is that our labors for the gospel are not in vain!
As the Executive Director of Sovereign Grace, I have the unique vantage point of seeing how God is using our family of churches in the steadfast work of the gospel. I want you to see what I see, because our labors for the gospel are not in vain. So here are some snapshots from my last few weeks. As you read these stories, I hope they not only stir your faith to continue to labor for the gospel, but also remind you of the mission we share as a family of churches.
A few weeks ago I attended Grace City Church in the Wissinoming section of Northeast Philadelphia. This church plant, led by Dan Birkholz is meeting in a 90+ year old church building that they were given last year. The church building gives them a presence in the community from which they can reach out to the people living in the surrounding neighborhoods. Through the faithful labors and outreach of the members on the Grace City church planting team, this church has grown in attendance from 30 to 60 in the last couple of months! On the Sunday I was there I met Doug, who is from Northeast Philadelphia, and was attending for the very first time. As we talked he told me about the rough life that he had lived, and that he decided to come to church because he had been invited and because he “wanted to come back to Jesus.” I told Doug if that’s what he wanted, he was in the right place. You see, that morning we sang the truths of the gospel, and Dan clearly preached the gospel in his sermon from Ephesians 1. The labors of Grace City Church are not in vain because Doug heard the life-saving message of the gospel that morning. I drove home that afternoon reminded again of one of the reasons Sovereign Grace exists. We exist to plant churches as a means to proclaim the gospel to those who don’t know Jesus!
Two weeks ago I received an e-mail from Jeff Ehrhardt. Last year Jeff was sent from Lakeview Christian Center in New Orleans to plant Christ Community Church in Covington, LA. In his e-mail Jeff told me of a man who recently was born again. This is how Jeff recounts the story: “Our most recent conversion occurred last Thursday. The men of the church met at church to discuss our study of The Godly Man's Picture. 10 minutes into the discussion on forgiveness, Brad interrupted me. Brad had come to church the previous two Sundays with his family as a result of an outreach in his community about 2 miles from church. He was sitting right next to me and asked for prayer because of the hatred and anger he had for his dad. He told us that if he died that night he knew he would go to hell because of his anger. I asked him a series of questions about his salvation, and he prayed with us all on the spot to repent of his sins and trust Christ for salvation as the men gathered around him. It was a glorious moment indeed!”
Why did Brad attend this study? Because the members of Christ Community Church were abounding in the work of the Lord by reaching out to their community. As I read Jeff’s e-mail, tears filled my eyes because we serve a God who still saves!! And Brad’s story reminded me again of the mission we share in Sovereign Grace; to reach those who don’t know Jesus with the good news of the gospel.
This past week I had a phone call with my friend Carlos Contreras. Carlos is the Sr. Pastor of Iglesia Gracia Soberana de Cd. Juarez, Mexico. One of the reasons we scheduled a call is because in a couple of weeks Carlos is traveling to Spain, on behalf of Sovereign Grace, to talk with pastors about planting churches in Spain and the Canary Islands. We don’t know if those churches will ever be a part of Sovereign Grace. We simply want to serve them, and I know we have much to learn from them. I’m telling you about this conversation for a couple of reasons. First, please pray for Carlos as he makes this trip. In particular, ask God to give Carlos wisdom in knowing how to best serve these pastors as they consider how to plant churches in Spain. Second, Carlos told me that only about 1% of the people in Spain are evangelical Christians. That statistic alone is a reminder that we are living in a post-Christian world which only makes our labors for the gospel more necessary and more urgent. You see it is vital that our family of churches remain steadfast and immovable in our labors for the gospel.
I hope these stories remind you that God is at work all around us. I hope these stories also encourage you to remain steadfast and immovable in your labors to make the gospel known. Let us not grow weary in abounding in gospel work because our labors are not in vain!
January 30, 2014 by
Categories: Church planting | Interviews
Larry Malament recently relocated to Clarksburg, Maryland to lead a team to plant Grace Church. We asked Larry to tell us a little bit about himself and the new church.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
My wife's name is Marilyn and we've been married for 34 years this February. We have three wonderful children who are all married and are part of the church in Charlotte. My son, David, is married to Anne and they have two children: Kate and Sam. My daughter, Jeni, is married to Lee Kubicek, and they have a little girl on the way. My daughter, Keri, is married to Isaac Cowles. I graduated from George Mason University and spent my first two years out of college teaching and coaching high school basketball. I've been in ministry since 1983. Marilyn and I both love to read—no better vacation than sitting next to each other at the beach and reading a good book. I enjoy playing golf and woodworking.
How long have you been in pastoral ministry, and which churches have you served in?
I've been in pastoral ministry for 25 years. I spent my first six years in ministry serving as a church administrator. I've served at the former Sovereign Grace church in Fairfax, the church in Atlanta, the church in Charlotte, and now in Clarksburg, Maryland.
For the past fifteen years I have served SGM internationally by helping care for and plant churches in Asia; specifically Burma, Korea, and India. Songhwan Kang in Korea planted a Sovereign Grace church in 2009. Yesupadam and Alpha Syiem in India, and David Vunga in Burma have partnered with Sovereign Grace for many years allowing us to help serve their pastors through teaching, evangelism teams, and medical camps. I've had the privilege of traveling to these countries more than 50 times and consider all these men dear friends and brothers in Christ. On most of these trips numerous pastors from other Sovereign Grace churches have accompanied me and shared in my ministry responsibilities. What has been very encouraging is to see the new relationships these pastors have formed with our international partners. Bill Kittrell and a number of Cornerstone members have been to Korea twice to serve Lord's Grace Church evangelistically by hosting children's camps and seminars. I'm looking forward to seeing more SGM pastors connect with Songhwan, Yesupadam, Alpha, and others as we continue to work with these godly men.
How did you decide to plant a church in Clarksburg, Maryland?
I was aware that there were a number of families in that area who wanted to be a part of a Sovereign Grace church. I grew up in the D.C. area and knew a number of the folks requesting a church plant. That, along with changes we needed to make in Charlotte due to financial limitations, made it seem like it might be a good fit for me.
What makes the Clarksburg area unique? Do you have any particular burdens for the area?
Clarksburg is not unique in that it is a growing community outside of Washington, D.C. Like all growing communities, it needs the gospel, and the more churches, the better. What does make this area unique is that 33% of the population is Asian. With my background in international ministry, specifically to Southeast Asia, I think I might be able to connect with some of these folks. My burden is to see the gospel impact the many young families and internationals that make up Clarksburg.
What things are you and your church planting team excited about?
We very excited about the makeup of our church. We have both young and older couples, which allows us to reach a broad range of individuals. I love that we're planting in a smaller community. Our desire is to reach Clarksburg proper, and we are thinking very narrowly regarding our community. I trust we'll attract others from the surrounding area, but our heart is to be a "community" church.
What sermon series will you be using for the first public meetings?
How can we be specifically praying for your church?
Pray for boldness to share the gospel and fruitfulness in seeing others come to faith in Christ.
How can those interested in the church find out more?
I'd be happy to have folks call me. 301-810-5707.
December 30, 2013 by
Categories: Articles | Church planting
Several friends of mine have recently sold their homes, secured new jobs, relocated from hundreds of miles away, and left everything they had previously known to help plant a new church in the greater Nashville area. I have so much respect for each one of them.
There’s such a mixture of emotions that can attend a decision like this. On the one hand, there’s the excitement of a new venture and the joy of answering the call of God. On the other hand, there’s the difficulty attended with “starting over” in a new city and the sadness of leaving behind the people you love.
Jesus answered those who followed him with the assurance that they would be blessed, that they would encounter trouble, and that they would receive eternal life:
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life (Mark 10:28–30).
These promises apply to everyone who follows Christ, regardless of whether or not he or she participates in a church plant. However, these assurances are particularly poignant to one who has relocated for the sake of the gospel and the cause of Christ.
Jesus comforts us with the promises that all the sacrifices involved, be it financially, relationally, personally, or professionally, will be rewarded.
My wife and I have been in the greater Nashville area for a little over a year now. We left an incredible, established, rich, gospel-proclaiming church and many of our dearest friends at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville in order to participate in planting Redeeming Grace Church in Franklin, Tennessee. CCK is where I came to faith in Christ. It’s where I was taught the truths of Scripture. It’s where I developed a passion for gospel mission, and it’s where I was eventually commissioned to “GO” to spread the gospel to a new region.
Which means that it’s where I had to leave. For so many reasons, leaving CCK was difficult for me. I can remember worshipping together the last few Sunday morning services and thinking, “What am I doing?” And yet the desire to help start and plant a new church in a new location for the sake of the gospel was so strong that I could never truly “shake it.” In the end, I knew my family was called to “GO” and that some of our dearest friends were called to “STAY.”
As we were preparing to plant, our lead pastor, Dave Odom, said this many times:
“Jesus is worth it.”
A year in to this gig, I can attest that Jesus is good on his Word. He is faithful to his promises. He has richly provided, far beyond anything we could have hoped for, asked for, or imagined. Church planting has expanded my horizons. It’s helped me see ways in which the Lord is at work everywhere around us. We’ve been embraced by the people of God in this area and have experienced deep fellowship with other believers in Christ. I’ve formed new friendships with other believers, and it feels like we’ve known each other all our lives. I’m amazed by that. I’ve also had the opportunity to share the good news of the gospel with people I would have otherwise never met.
As I look back on this year, I thank God for 17 wonderful years of being ministered to at CCK. I thank God for my short time at Immanuel Church of Nashville while we waited for the rest of the church-planting team to arrive. And I thank God for our new church home, Redeeming Grace Church. As I stand and sing with my new friends at Redeeming Grace Church, it feels like home. It feels like the “dearest place on earth” to me.
Church planting also makes me yearn for heaven more than ever before. I look forward to the day when the saints of God will not be separated by geography and limited by the restraints of time and space.
The greatest reward of church planting, for me, is that through the spread of the gospel, more and more people will see Jesus’ worth.
I’m taking Jesus at his Word that those follow him will be blessed, will have trouble, and will receive eternal life. I’m convinced that Jesus is true to his Word, and that he will reward our efforts.
And I think Dave Odom was right: “Jesus IS worth it.”
Craig Cooper is an associate pastor of Redeeming Grace Church, a newly-formed church plant located in the greater Nashville, Tennessee area. He also blogs at RevivingTheSoul.com, a website created to encourage, comfort, and strengthen believers in Christ.
December 17, 2013 by
Categories: Articles | Church planting
We recently had the privilege of adopting Community of Grace Church, located in Buffalo, New York, into our family of churches. We asked pastor Rob Saathoff to tell us a little bit about the church.
How long has you church been in existence?
The church began in 1990.
How long have you been the pastor of the church?
I came to pastor the church August 1991.
How did you become the pastor?
The semester before I graduated from seminary, my wife and I took our spring break to visit some friends who graduated from seminary the prior semester. He and his wife moved to western New York to plant a church. The church I currently pastor was the sponsoring church for his plant even though it did not have a pastor yet. During our spring break visit I preached at the sponsoring church and a connection was made that started a process that ended with my wife and I coming to Buffalo in August of 1991. Originally neither the church or I was interested in each other, but God used that process to turn our hearts toward each other. Just a side note, being a native Texan, it has been a bittersweet thing to have all my children born yankees. God’s grace is sufficient.
What are some things which make your church unique?
I don’t think of my church as being that unique. I think we are probably like most churches with solid, faithful members who have a really great Savior. We love Christ and are devoted to his will and kingdom. We love the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. In addition to this, I love that we are multi-generational. I love how all generations are serving together. I love that my church is committed to disciples making disciples. I love how members of the church are involved in a variety of local ministries that serve single mothers, the homeless, and crisis pregnancies. I love the close fellowship and support we experience as a church family. I love that every Sunday is like a family reunion around a gospel feast. I love that I have been in the church long enough to see young children become young adults, get married and have their own children. I love how generous, kind, and welcoming my church is.
What was your first contact with Sovereign Grace?
I first became aware of Sovereign Grace through their music. I was looking for contemporary songs that have some doctrinal grit. My wife, Terri, and I began to notice the same copyright on a number of songs we loved to sing. I did some research and found Sovereign Grace Ministries (PDI at the time) and saw they offered a worship conference. I planned to attend the next worship conference, but circumstances prevented me. The following January I was able to take a group of young adults to the New Attitude conference in Louisville. While there I was befriended by a Sovereign Grace pastor who invited me to the pastor’s conference. I was stunned by what I heard at both New Attitude and the pastor’s conference. Every song, every sermon, every prayer was textured and permeated with the gospel in ways I have never experienced.
Why do you want to become part of Sovereign Grace?
It became apparent to me that my church and I were running on parallel tracks with Sovereign Grace. What God was doing in my church seemed to be mirrored in Sovereign Grace. We held similar values such as the priority of the gospel, sound doctrine, expository preaching and the vital role of the Holy Spirit. I realized we were essentially a Sovereign Grace church though we were not officially a member. I also saw gospel fruit in so many of the people who had befriended us in SG and wanted that fruit in my life, in my marriage, my children and in my church. We want to be part of what God is doing through Sovereign Grace: to preach Christ, and to plant and support Christ-exalting, gospel-centered churches.
How is your church reaching out to your local community?
In September the church was called to pray and fast, asking God to fill us with a passion to bring Christ to our community. Currently the whole church is being trained through the evangelistic curriculum “MyCircle Initiative.” This training inspires people to be on mission with God by taking responsibility to give the gospel to people in our circle of influence. In this training we learn what it means to have a gospel presence in someone’s life in order to have a gospel voice. Through this training my church is challenged to pray everyday for unbelieving family, friends and neighbors, and to seek weekly opportunities to give a gospel witness.
You can find out more about Community of Grace Church on their website.
December 4, 2013 by
Categories: Articles | Church planting
Jon Payne is the lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church, which was just recently planted in Round Rock, Texas. We asked Jon to share what God is teaching him as a church planter. These lessons Jon shares are wise words for anyone in leadership, not just church planters.
Church planting is going to school under the wise instruction of God. Every day, every week, every month he is teaching and training and helping me, helping me grow in my understanding of him in the schoolhouse of planting a church. Here are a few of the lessons I have received so far.
Know what to build before you start building. The temptation to craft messages and structures to create numerical success or to appease the widest audience is never greater than in the first, vulnerable days of a church plant. Building on Biblical values and gospel centrality means accepting in advance that not all interested guests will want to stay.
Don't let your heart rise and fall with attendance and the bank account. Security and impact seem to be tied up with enough money and enough people - yet unless the Lord builds this house we will be laboring in vain.
Beware of success that tempts you to neglect prayer. Seeing immediate fruit can lead to complacency in prayer, long before there is complacency in study or leadership.
Beware of disappointments that lead to anxiety and micromanagement. Godly effort and leadership is marked by peace. Pride causes worry and demands perfection.
Delegation is an act of worshiping God. Trusting God means trusting his grace at work in others - each fulfilling their own role in the body in their own God-given way.
Encouragement and thankfulness is a constant priority. Team members quickly feel the burden of the church planting task and need the strength communicated by a leader constantly pointing out how God is using them. Also, be much more concerned about preserving your team's joy and faith than upholding your ministry's appearance for guests.
Don't underestimate the familiar moments that happen every week. Anticipate God using this particular sermon, song choice, counsel, comfort to the suffering, spontaneous ministry moment, public humility, display of faith, repeated emphasis on the gospel. Church defining moments don't always advertise themselves.
Build for 100 years from now, or until Jesus returns. Your first week, month, year, sermon series, failures, successes, and new members classes, will not define the final testimony of your church. You're building for the long run. The Word, the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit will bear fruit. Don't get dismayed by the little hills and valleys in the various decades along the way.
Highlight partnership for your church. Celebrate your partnership with the theologically orthodox church of history past and a family of supportive churches in the present. Prepare your church for the potential of your own serious failure by recommending the wisdom of leaders that they can trust if you fall. Make sure they know who to call if if you die or dare to turn away from the Lord. Don't build the church's ultimate confidence into your faithfulness.
Enjoy true fellowship and friendship with your team, whoever they are. Receive correction, advice, encouragement, and accountability and enjoy moments of fun when you are not making church decisions or leading a meeting. You need Biblical community.
Enjoy your wife and children. Give time to your family, even in the earliest days of church planting. Even when you'd love a little more sermon prep. Even when you have phone calls to return. There will always be more to do, but prioritizing the family requires a constant choice to leave the "more" in the hands of the Lord.
Pursue joy in the Lord as your strength. The gospel is good news. You're going to heaven even after the end of the worst day. The worst and best emails don't define your identity. You always have hope to give people. You always have hope for yourself.
If I really had it all together, this would be a list of seven or ten lessons. But I don't have it all together, and I'm not sure which lessons to leave out. I'm grateful for all of them, as I am for the church planters that have gone before me and passed them on to me. I'm most grateful for the Lord's gracious patience to keep teaching me as I go to school each day.
Teach us, Lord, we are listening.
November 7, 2013 by
Categories: Church planting
Last night was a night 15 years in the making. I had the privilege of participating in the first official public meeting of Redeeming Grace Church, Nashville!
Celebrating the Faithfulness of God
God has been so kind to us. A year ago this fall, my family and I relocated to Franklin, Tennessee with the desire to help Dave Odom plant a gospel-centered church in the greater Nashville area. The Lord provided an incredible job for me, and I’ve been working with the Provisions Group in downtown Franklin for a year.
In many ways, this church plant is something that my wife and I have committed to the Lord in prayer for over 15 years. So last night was a very special night for us. A year ago, I would have never dreamed we would have 103 people attend our first meeting, but God has been very gracious to us.
Dave Odom, the lead pastor, is a gift from God to us and an answer to prayer. It was such a joy to hear him preach on the person and work of Jesus as we launched Redeeming Grace Church. For the first few months, Dave is going to continue to preach on the person and work of Jesus. May our focus always be on Christ!
Standing next to my long-time, close friend Howard Varnedoe and worshipping the Lord together on this plant is simply a dream come true for me and my family (and another answer to my prayers). I continually thank God for my rich friendship with Howard and his Christ-saturated influence on my life.
Our good friend, Seth Rosen, led us in worship, and we sang about the faithfulness of God. Seth is a very gifted song writer and worship leader, and the acoustics in this small venue are really incredible; it was so wonderful to sing together in praise to our faithful God!
Together on Mission
“As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3)
I love these people, and I love our mission together:
We exist to exalt, enjoy, and extend the grace of God in Christ.
May Jesus Christ be exalted through Redeeming Grace Church, and may many sinners come to find refuge in the Savior as they walk through our doors!
If you are in the Franklin / South Nashville area, we would love for you to join us. We are currently meeting on Saturday evenings at 6pm at Hillview Baptist Church (1642 Lewisburg Pike, Franklin, TN 37064).
Craig Cooper is an associate pastor of Redeeming Grace Church. Craig graduated from the Sovereign Grace Pastors College in 1999. He then served as a pastor with Cornerstone Church of Knoxville for nearly 8 years. He was ordained in 2011 and relocated to the greater Nashville area in 2012 where he currently works as a Senior Recruiter with the Provisions Group in downtown Franklin, as well as serving to assist Dave Odom in planting Redeeming Grace Church. Craig and his wife, Laura, live in Franklin, Tennessee and have four children.
October 22, 2013 by
Categories: Church planting | Interviews
Greg Dirnberger is leading a church-planting team to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after attending the Pastors College and completing a church-planting residency at Sovereign Grace Church (Bloomington, MN). We asked Greg to share some of what the Lord has done in leading them to plant this church.
First of all, when and where will your church begin?
We're planting Emmaus Road Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We’ve begun “interest meetings” already. However, we do not expect to have a public launch for several weeks.
Where is your church-planting team coming from?
Our team is taking shape with folks relocating from Sovereign Grace Church of Bloomington, Minnesota, as well as friends that we know from the Sioux Falls area. But the heart of the team is a group of young men (including our sons) who approached me a few years ago to come alongside them and plant a church that would plant more churches (both locally and internationally).
How did you decide to plant in Sioux Falls? Are there certain aspects of the area that get you excited about church planting there?
Sioux Falls is a dynamic economic center in the upper Midwest. The city is growing by 400 people per month. Banking, health/medical industries, and a vibrant climate for small business entrepreneurs makes Sioux Falls an overall strategic community. However, once again, the thing that has stirred our hearts the most for this city is the vital relationships and influence God has given us here.
What is your overall vision for the church?
Our aim is to, with God’s help, make disciples that will bring transformation to this city and region for the glory of Jesus.
What are some specific values that you want to characterize Emmaus Road Church?
My wife, Laurie, (and our sons) have walked together with me through 29 years of pastoral ministry. Along the way, several things have left indelible marks on our development process—things that make us who are and inform our values. These include things like:
- Spiritual community
- Evangelism and mission
- Education, which has been our avenue to developing strategic relationships with young emerging leaders
- Mentoring and redemptive leadership
- A heart for the nations, fanned into flame by twelve years of pastoral ministry in Hawaii and a dozen mission trips to Japan, the Philippines, Europe, and Ghana
We trust and pray that these things that we value so dearly might be “caught” and characterize Emmaus Road Church.
What aspects of Sovereign Grace Church in Bloomington do you most appreciate and want to emulate as you begin Emmaus Road Church?
Someone I dearly respect has said something to the effect of, “there are gifted servants, leaders, and pastors you can seek to emulate, and others you can only admire.” Rick Gamache is a preacher in the category of one whom I can only admire. However, I earnestly pray that the earnest preaching of the Word and the eager appetite fostered among the saints at Sovereign Grace Church Bloomington to hear the Word might somehow uniquely characterize Emmaus Road Church.
Also, there is a very sweet and passionate engagement with God in worship that characterizes Sovereign Grace Church Bloomington. May God bless us with a few “crumbs from that table.”
Part 2 will be posted later this week.
This past August, Gracia Soberana de Ciudad Juárez said goodbye to one of its beloved pastors, Ricky Ramos. Ricky and his wife, Lory, decided on an early retirement to be able to join Jon and Lory Payne—their daughter and son-in-law—to plant Redemption Hill Church in Austin, Texas. It was both a joyous and tearful occasion for our church, since this couple made a deep and significant investment in our church over the 16 years they served here.
Saying goodbye to Ricky was a joyous occasion because we all had the opportunity to review the gift that a good pastor is to a congregation. It took a whole week of celebrations to give everyone an opportunity to express their appreciation and love to Ricky and Lory. And there were many reasons to be thankful.
A Good Pastor
Ricky is a good pastor. He was excellent, along with his wife, at caring for people through counseling and instruction, but also in giving of themselves to those they were called to serve. They were full of love and kindness toward a congregation they loved, leaving a mark on our church that cannot be erased.
As they taught and discipled others in family matters, they served as excellent examples of a godly couple, pursuing growth in their marriage and their parenting. Many younger couples expressed their goal of one day “being like Ricky and Lory.”
Ricky and Lory embodied the apostle Peter’s admonition to pastors to serve by being examples to the flock. What a distinct privilege it was to honor them publicly, and in the presence of their children, by referring to them as true examples to all of us. Ricky’s example in these areas is a definition of what a “good” pastor should be.
To me, having served alongside Ricky for all those years, I can truly say Ricky is a good pastor because he was always my faithful friend who cared for me and the other pastors on staff. He wasn’t just my fellow elder; he was also my pastor, faithfully caring for the health of my soul and my family. And he was a wise counselor and a prudent elder in his role as a church leader. He was a good pastor because he guarded the gospel with zeal and helped us always keep the main thing in front of us. I have missed him being at my side almost every day since they have left.
Thankfulness to God
During their going away party, our production team designed a banner that read in bold letters: “Thank you, Ricky and Lory, we will always be grateful for your contribution into our lives.” The background of the banner looked like a brick wall. But what looked like bricks were actually words. Those words included ”kindness, generosity, instruction, friendship, counsel, care, help, nurture, correction, patience,” and many more that described some of the elements that Ricky and Lory had built into our large church family through the years. Ricky was a good pastor because the master builder used him to help edify the church.
Ricky and Lory were good gifts to us, as all God given gifts are. They were a true expression of the love of our Father in heaven to his church in Juárez. And because they were such precious gifts, a large void is felt in our hearts as they have left. But even that void is good, for it reminds us what a good pastor is and gives us reason to be thankful to God.
We rejoice and are thankful they are now being a good gift to their children and grandchildren, as well as to our new brothers and sisters in Redemption Hill Church of Austin, Texas.
Thank you, Ricky and Lory! Our Lord was good to us by sending you here to Juárez for all these years.
Carlos Contreras has attended Iglesia Gracia Soberana de Cd. Juárez for 34 years, and has served on staff for the last 22 years (15 as senior pastor). He and his wife, Kena, have been married for 30 years and have four children.
October 3, 2013 by
Categories: Articles | Church planting
Planting Redeeming Grace Church
In just a few weeks, a group of about 100 people, each with amazing stories of the grace and providence of God, will gather for their first official meeting to worship as a body, a family...a new church. Grateful tears well up as I realize the prayers, plans, vision, and work are becoming a reality.
By God’s grace, my husband, Dave, is planting Redeeming Grace Church in Franklin, Tennessee this October. As the launch draws near, it has been good to stop and reflect on what God has done to get us here. The road has not been easy with moving several times with three little ones, then having a new baby, all the while trusting and waiting for God to lead and provide for each step. It has been challenging, but it has been so good. The grace and faithfulness God has shown us has far exceeded anything we could have hoped for or imagined. Our family has grown closer, our marriage stronger, and our faith in Jesus and love for the church has deepened. God has continued to affirm this call, lead us, and meet us in such amazing ways that I would need pages and pages to recount it all. Yet as I look back, planting a church has made three things so evidently and even tangibly clear.
The reality of the love of Christ
As a mom of four little ones, I have carried them on my heart, praying that God would protect them through all of our transitions, somehow helping them understand what he had called us to do. God has abundantly answered that prayer. As we have traveled, moved, and met hundreds of believers from all over the world, my kids have gotten to see and experience like never before the reality of the love of Christ as they embraced us. They have seen this divine love as the only common denominator that unifies strangers as instant family. They are also seeing that it is the love of Christ that identifies our church, rather than a building, as we meet in temporary locations. They have watched as Cornerstone Church of Knoxville has prayed, supported, and sacrificed to send us out. And most definitely, we are so grateful for the support and care from this family of churches in Sovereign Grace which so beautifully displays to our kids (and us) what it means to be partners in the gospel.
Desperate dependence on the Spirit’s work
If anything has become clear, it is that we are completely dependent on the Lord to do this. Our weakness and his strength have become glaringly obvious so that we know that our confidence and competence is only through Christ before God (2 Corinthians 3:4–6), and his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I have never been more desperate for the Lord and aware of my need for the Spirit to work in our lives and in our church. Desperate for the Lord has become my new norm, and there’s no better place to be.
God’s faithfulness and care
I have had a unique vantage point as I’ve been able to watch God growing this church from desires, prayers, and vision to where we are today: planting with a people marked by grace, filled with faith, eager to worship, serve, and share the gospel with this community. What faith God has granted them to commit to God’s call even before houses were sold or jobs worked out, and yet he has been faithful to provide! This has built our faith. We don’t question for a second that it is God who is building this church. We are just humbled and grateful to be a part of it!
The journey here will forever change our family. We already love to recount the stories to our children of God’s kindness and faithfulness as we look back, and it fuels our faith as we look ahead. I am so grateful for my husband and follow him with joy as he shepherds this new church. We pray that God will use this church to change many lives with the gospel of his redeeming grace.
Mary Beth Odom and her husband, Dave, are originally from Montgomery, Alabama, and have been married for twelve years. They have four children, ages eleven months to nine years. Dave graduated from the Pastors College in 2012, and then served at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville as a church planting resident. The Odom family has just moved to Franklin, Tennessee to be part of the Sovereign Grace Church plant, Redeeming Grace Church, starting in October 2013.